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Congress Mend

Claim:   List details crimes committed by members of the U.S. Congress.

FALSE

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, April 2012]

29 members of Congress have been accused of spousal abuse,
7 have been arrested for fraud,
19 have been accused of writing bad checks,
117 have bankrupted at least two businesses,
3 have been arrested for assault,
71 have credit reports so bad they can't qualify for a credit card,
14 have been arrested on drug-related charges,
8 have been arrested for shoplifting,
21 are current defendants in lawsuits,

And in 1998 alone, 84 were stopped for drunk driving, but released after they claimed Congressional immunity. (from Capitol Hill Blue)

And these are the People who make Laws that We MUST obey?
Your tax dollars at work!
 

Origins:   Later versions of this item changed the subjects from "members of Congress" to members of Parliament from Canada, India, or the UK, or to players from the NFL and NBA.

Origins:   The e-mail quoted above was drawn from a series of articles that appeared in the online publication Capitol Hill Blue in 1999. The series ("Congress: America's Criminal Class") included lengthy articles about four specific members of Congress and a finale detailing Congress' "long tradition of corruption and ambivalence," with the opening piece proclaiming that:
Our research found 117 members of the House and Senate who have run at least two businesses each that went bankrupt, often leaving business partners and creditors holding the bag. Seventy-one of them have credit reports so bad they can't get an American Express card (but as
members of Congress, they get a government-issued Amex card without a credit check).

Fifty-three have personal and financial problems so serious they would be denied security clearances by the Department of Defense or the Department of Energy if they had to apply through normal channels (but, again, as members of Congress they get such clearances simply because they fooled enough people to get elected).

Twenty-nine members of Congress have been accused of spousal abuse in either criminal or civil proceedings. Twenty-seven have driving while intoxicated arrests on their driving records. Twenty-one are current defendants in various lawsuits, ranging from bad debts, disputes with business partners or other civil matters.

Nineteen members of Congress have been accused of writing bad checks, even after the scandal several years ago, which resulted in closure of the informal House bank that routinely allowed members to overdraw their accounts without penalty. Fourteen members of Congress have drug-related arrests in their background, eight were arrested for shoplifting, seven for fraud, four for theft, three for assault and one for criminal trespass.
A few points about this piece:
  • The information cited here isn't independently verifiable since none of the people referenced is identified by name, and the original publisher has steadfastly declined to provide any documentation for these claims. And some of the information couldn't possibly be true: Washington police told us, for example, that they don't track traffic stops in which no citations are issued, so they would have no way of knowing how many members of Congress had been stopped for traffic violations without being cited.

    Why bother to conduct all this supposed research but then not mention any names? One plausible answer is that doing so heads off libel lawsuits when the information is proved to be inaccurate or false.
  • The original article is now several years old (having been published in 1999) and even when first published didn't list any names or state when its information was collected, so there's no telling how many of the people referenced might still be in Congress.
  • The list is long on vague innuendo and woefully short of hard facts. It describes members of Congress who have supposedly been "arrested," "accused," or "defendants," but doesn't mention a single case (anonymous or otherwise) of any of them having been convicted (or even tried) on criminal charges, no matter how minor, or of having been found liable in a civil lawsuit. We're told that "117 members of the House and Senate have run at least two businesses each that went bankrupt, often leaving business partners and creditors holding the bag," but get no detail about who these members were, the nature of the businesses that failed, why the businesses failed, or who was left "holding the bag" (and for how much). We're also told that "twenty-nine members of Congress have been accused of spousal abuse in either criminal or civil proceedings," but find nothing about any of them actually being convicted or ordered to pay civil damages.
  • Lacking any specific context, some of these claims border on the silly. "Twenty-one [Congress members] are current defendants in various lawsuits, ranging from bad debts, disputes with business partners or other civil matters." How much significance should we place on such a vague statement in our litigious society, where just about anyone can find himself a defendant in a civil lawsuit over the most frivolous of matters (or nothing at all)? And "seventy-one of them have credit reports so bad they can't get an American Express card"? Based on what: irresponsible overspending, absent-mindedly making a few late credit card payments, or simply being the innocent victim of a credit reporting agency screw-up? Once again, nothing in the original enables the reader to make any such distinction.
Some of our Congressional representatives certainly have less-than-stellar personal records, but many of them are in fact dedicated, honest, hard-working public servants. Tarring them all with the brush of anonymous, vague accusation does no one any good.

Last updated:   7 January 2013

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Sources:

    Capitol Hill Blue.   "Rep. Corrine Brown and Her Long Trail of Lies, Deceit and Unpaid Bills."
    16 August 1999.

    Capitol Hill Blue.   "Virginia's Bombastic Congressman Jim Moran: 'I like to hit people.'"
    17 August 1999.

    Capitol Hill Blue.   "After Promising Accountability, Speaker Newt Gingrich Took Care of His Own."
    18 August 1999.

    Capitol Hill Blue.   "Sen. Robert Byrd: Invoking an Ancient Rule to Avoid a Modern Law."
    19 August 1999.

    Capitol Hill Blue.   "A Long Tradition of Corruption and Ambivalence."
    20 August 1999.